Content Warnings: blood, the fae, fear
"Flowers From The Bones" by C. B. Blanchard
2,100 words, Short fiction
CW: blood, the fae, fear
There is a place, deep in the heart of the woods. There is a wild place, a hungry place. The sun breaks through the leaves in a green-gold hush, and when birds sing it shocks the trees and the flowers beneath them. There is a place; you may find me there. Or you may not.
Once, maybe, once upon a time, once upon that dead-and-ashes time, there was a young woman, whose heart beat and whose blood flowed in her veins and who breathed the air like it was her birthright. And she did human, mortal things like loving and hating and celebrating and grieving and committing small selfish sins and small selfless acts of good.
Her name is gone, no longer spoken, but it is only one of a million million names lost to the air and the earth and the uncaring spread of time and forgetting.
She was not special. Maybe it would make more sense if she was. But she wasn't. She was not born from the union of a woodland spirit and a mortal, she did not come into the world curled safe in a seedpod, flowers did not bloom in her steps. She worked in a shop, and she grew chilli plants on her windowsill. She was merely a woman.
Who one day went on a walk in some tamed woods and was changed.
Bird song on the air, the fresh breath of wind in trees and through grass. Cars barely audible on the distant road. Her own breath echoing in her head. Shoulders back and relaxed, back of neck warmed by sun. Mossy earth around her. It's good, primal, feels right. She is wandering, aimless, letting mind and spirit uncoil. Letting the path take her.
There is a hollow space in her. It is very old, and she has forgotten it.
Oh, child, be careful when walking under the trees, in case your empty places become nurseries for strange seeds.
Whispers, whispers in her head under conscious thought. Whispers and calling. Come, come to me. There are bluebells, glowing in the dappled sun. Come, come to me.
Foxgloves, pretty flowers, poison seeds. Come, come to me, and the flowers now have no names that she might know. She has never seen such blooms. They stretch towards her, shapes and colours incomprehensible. Come, come to me, and the trees lean over her, forming a tunnel.
Come. Come to me.
She feels as she did when young, when she got lost inside her own imagination. That floating distant fogginess, the place she thinks of as 'the real world' pulled away and muted. Somewhere there are cars, there are people arguing at a coffee shop, there are roadworks and electric lights and the deafening hum of more than six billion human lives, but it's not here, under these trees, amid this green.
She has the urge to undress. In a dream, she does it. Because this is a dream, isn't it? It has the logic of one. All things are permissible in dreams. She crouches and unlaces her boots, leaves them – with her socks neatly rolled inside them – on a mossy stump. Moss and bark and twigs all under her bare feet, and it is very good.
Her top next, the bra underneath it. She hasn't been topless in public since she was a child. Her skin glows in the sun. She thinks that she is beautiful and is amazed that she doubted it before. How could she be anything else?
Come. Come to me.
Her jeans next, her underwear. She steps out of both of them, leaves them behind like a shed skin, unwanted, unconsidered. Her eyes are blank, reflecting trees on trees on trees. She has the forest in her eyes. She breathes deep, deeper, deepest. She has it in her lungs now, too.
There is a scent in the air, wild strawberries warmed by sun. Leaf mulch. Under it all a dry musty sweetness, like bone dust.
There are mushrooms, in a far-off always night place, that grow on dead bodies. In their fungus pragmatism they skip the other steps. Everything that lives is fed by the dead. Bury your enemy under a new sapling, and see it thrive.
Blood and bone and wild flowers and sweet, heady, perfumed strawberries, in her eyes and ears and head, she is nearly there.
She is in a grove with bones under the earth. There is movement. Something steps out. It is not human, and it has never been human, and it will never be human. You could call it a she; it is generous of breast and hip and belly. You could call it a she, but that is a human thing. The skin is all the colours of the forest and more too, the soft gentle in-between colours without names. You could call it a she; you could call it Goddess, you could call it anything you wanted and be right and horribly wrong all at once.
From the feet (which spread like roots) up to the thighs, it is tree bark. It is not below human classification, it transcends. An owl’s head sits on its shoulders, and deer antlers grow through the soft feathers. It opens its beak, and all the sounds of the forest come rushing out. Fox screams and bird calls and wolf howls and and and—
Kneel, kneel, before this. Kneel before the old God.
She kneels. The old God spreads its legs, and she presses her mouth to what's between them, tasting sweetness.
She belongs to the forest now. The seed is in her heart.
She is not who is buried beneath your feet, who stirs uneasy as ghosts walk in the forest that used to be city streets. She carries the new start, not the old ending.
Death and life, life and death. For something new, something must make way. The forest burns, and in the ashes new trees grow. A man dies, and they plant rosemary and rue on his grave.
Careful where you tread during the full of the moon, my child, lest you fall afoul of the wild hunt.
I was—young. I knew that my body was wrong, that the parts of it didn't connect as they ought, that I inhabited it like a ghost in someone else's corpse. People called me a girl, and that was wrong. People called me a boy, and that was wrong, too. I wanted to be nothing, I wanted to be the void between stars, the silence between breaths, the hush underground.
I went out at night a lot. I had friends, or almost friends, other outcasts wearing too much eyeliner and charity shop attempts at alternative fashion. I renamed myself, weekly. We told stories where we were changeling things, transplants from other worlds. Child-adults, smoking dope and drinking cheap white cider in the neglected parts of city parks, struggling in boxes and lines that existed only to cut us into tiny pieces. We saw magic in the weeds that grew in cracked pavement, we kissed each other under clouded moonlight and fought each other with vicious words and sometimes nails and teeth.
We had gone to the bad.
I—I—I—do not remember clearly. I am gone, I am here, I am both and neither.
Once I was sitting in a grove with the pine trees around me, silent under the silver light of the moon, moss and mushrooms about me. The night air was cold on my bare arms, my bare chest. I was crying, the kind of ugly choking wailing that comes from the deep wounded places. I was giving my blood to the earth with a craft knife I kept in my pocket. No-one wanted me. I was going to be disgusting and alone and a freak forever. I was not made for the world.
Blood has power. Grief has magic to it. Go into the woods at night with your soul so open and ragged and see what comes for you, attracted by the scent in the air.
I was never meant to be part of the world that was, and I believed it so deeply I made it true.
The grove expanded. The world shifted. I saw a shadow at the mouth of the grove.
I thought, maybe, that it was one of my friends. That they'd felt my pain through the link we said we shared. That I wasn't alone.
It didn't move like a person. It stalked, like a wolf on two legs.
The mouth of the grove widened. There were so many of them now. My blood was trickling, down the breasts that were sometimes wrong and sometimes right and not really mine either way.
I stopped making a noise, but I was still crying. These tears were different.
They were beautiful, and they were terrible, and their eyes shone in the dark and their mouths were twisted up in hunger and teeth.
I was curled up on my own feet, in my cheap boots that cut the back of my heels.
They were tall.
“Up,” one said, and in its voice I heard animals dying quiet desperate lonely deaths. I stood.
It gestured. Behind me. There was.
A path through the trees newly opened and dotted with night blooming flowers and pale mushrooms and lit by moonlight and I was so afraid. I didn't love my mother and she didn't love me but I wanted her now like the baby I'd been once.
“Run,” they said in unison. “Run and live, little rabbit.”
Their voices. Their awful voices.
I ran. I ran. Pure survival gave my legs strength. I'd never been good at sports and I was the slowest in my school. But now I was an animal and the want of living drove me on.
The body is a desperate, simple thing. It doesn't think of long term consequence. It just wants another breath, another heartbeat, another minute, and it will do what it can to get it. It will tear itself apart to get just another second of life.
I ran until my boots broke, my feet bled. Trees and thorns shredded my skin. Behind me the whooping, wild and full of cruel love.
The Hunt has rules. Make the boundaries by dawn and be free, maybe even ask for a gift. Though be careful, child; their gifts are double edged. No matter. I never made the boundaries.
They caught me in open ground, fallen to my knees in heathland. I could smell my own blood, taste it, mineral and metal in my mouth. Above me the stars were sharp as broken glass. I was tired of running.
“Do it,” I told them. “Do whatever it is you do. I'm not a proper person anyway.”
The leader dropped its hood, and lifted my face up with its clawed hand. Its face shifted between horror and beauty at random.
It kissed me with its sharp teeth, drank up my blood.
Then the whole hunt tore me apart. Body yes, but important, more important, my self, or what I had always seen as it. Shredded it, shredded me, ate me all up, blood and spirit stuff staining their hands, their pelts.
When they were done I was bones and scraps. When they were done, I was shining and free. When they were done they took the new thing, and welcomed it in. When they were done they packed my bones in bloodied fur and took them back to the grove to bury me.
And is that the grove where the woman accepted the seed of the new world upon her tongue? I was the death and she was the birth. Together we made this.
I saw it, I saw it. I saw her walk back into the world. I had a new skin by then, one that suited me. I saw her. She was still naked and her eyes were all green. People tried to stop her, hold her. She shook them and kept walking.
She kneeled, in the decorative greenery at the middle of a busy roundabout, and she thrust her fingers into the controlled soil, and around her the forest grew.
And it was all different.
If you look, careful careful now, you must know the rules to have lived so long, hair on your body as well as your head—
If you look there you might see a wreckage of steel smothered by green. There are so many bones here. It happened in moments. People lost, the branches grown through their hearts, the trees fed by blood and death.
I am beyond regret, sorrow, grief. I am here, in the earth, and another me runs with the Hunt. Things must die for new things to be born.
Are you the sacrifice? Are you newly adult, freshly made, given to us as the pact? Will you be one of us? Join the Hunt, the Court, the ancient centre of magic?
They are coming for you. Be careful, child, about what you say.
There is a place, deep in the heart of the woods. There is a wild place, a hungry place. The sun breaks through the leaves in green-gold hush, and when birds sing it shocks the trees and the flowers beneath them. There is a place; you may find me there. Or you may not.
C. B. Blanchard is a queer, NB, mentally ill writer living in the UK with their husband and cats. They write fantasy, horror, and dark fantasy and like things that cross the boundaries between genres. They spend a lot of time wandering around woodland and heathland and consider themselves a witch.
After growing up ‘weird’ they decided to embrace who they were (not without struggle and pain) and hope one day to live in a world where the originality and uniqueness of every human life is prized and loved. They bring their own unique thought-processes to their work and life.